The first passenger railway was a converted freight railway in Swansea, Wales. It started operating with horse-drawn carriages in 1803. However, it would take more than 50 years for horse-drawn trams to appear on the streets of large cities. Their heyday coincides with the reign of queen Victoria, and they started to disappear around the end of the 19th century, eclipsed by trams driven by electricity.
London Horse-Drawn Trams
When Queen Victoria was crowned in 1840, the horse-drawn tram had not yet come to London. While the first "hail and ride" bus service, an idea imported from Paris, was launched in 1829 it was not until 1870 that horse-drawn trams on rails started competing with the buses.
New York Horse-Drawn Trolleys
In New York, the horse-drawn trams went into operation much earlier than in London. The first public transport in New York City was established in 1827, and already the year after, the New York and Harlem Railroad was set up. This street railway used horse-drawn cars with metal wheels and ran on metal track. By 1855 horse-drawn cars ran on street railways on the Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues. However, towards the end of the century, the horses were replaced by electric trolley cars.
Other American Horse-Drawn Streetcars
Horse-drawn street cars appeared in other American cities. On July, 4, 1859, the president of the Missouri Railway Company went for a trial run in St. Louis, riding in a car full of company representatives and city officials. The trip was derailed by rocks on the track. Despite this inauspicious debut, street cars became the predominant means of travel in St. Louis, even adding two-story cars. However, here as elsewhere, the horse as the means of propulsion bowed to electricity at the end of the 19th century.
Last Surviving Horse-Drawn Streetcar
On the small island of Isle of Man between England and Ireland, horse-drawn street cars have not stopped operating since Victorian times. The service of the Douglas Horse Drawn Trams dates back to 1876. The trams travel for two miles between the Manx Electric Railway and the depot at Derby Castle along Douglas Promenade to the Sea Terminal and Port. The operation was briefly suspended during World War II. The tramway, which also operates a home for old horses, is a popular form of transport for tourists and locals.
- Isle of Man: Horse Drawn Trams
- London Transport Museum: Collections: Victorian Transport
- Nettleworth Primary School: Some Important Events from the Victorian Era
- Metro Transit Authority: Facts and Figures: New York City Transit - History and Chronology
- St. Louis American Local History Network: Ridin' In The Street Cars
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images